Did you know that your dentist can spot serious health risks like…
oral cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and premature birth?
Most people would never think a trip to their dentist would actually save their lives. Dental appointments are typically made to either relieve pain or help maintain a beautiful smile. But, we should really think of our dentist as a health care provider and part of the team of physicians that helps us to maintain our overall health. Dentists, after all, are physicians of the mouth. Although this may seem like a new concept to some people, dentists are trained to diagnose diseases of the mouth in both the hard tissue (teeth) and soft tissue (tongue, roof of the mouth, lips, and gums). During every visit, the dentist inspects these tissues for any changes that could be the warning signs of disease. A regular visit to your dentist will not only help you and your family maintain your overall health…but it could also save your life.
Over 30,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. Oral cancer has a higher death rate than cancers of the ovaries, cervix, liver, brain, testes, kidney, and skin, as well as Hodgkin’s disease. If diagnosed early, there is a better chance for survival. Your dentist is trained to observe changes in the soft tissue of the mouth and recognize precancerous lesions. These changes may include ulcers on the lips, white patches on the cheeks, or ulcers under the tongue.
Studies have shown a connection between gum disease, heart disease, and stroke. Gum disease makes gum tissue weaker, allowing oral bacteria to enter the blood stream. Dental bacteria can cause blood clots or a clumping together of blood cells. Blood clots can travel through the blood stream, causing a stroke or heart attack. Regular visits to your dentist, along with recommended treatments, will assist in removing this risk factor.
Many people with diabetes were initially diagnosed with the disease as a result of a routine dental visit. Your dentist is not the health care provider who can diagnose whether or not you have diabetes; however, dentists often suspect diabetes during their treatment of gum disease. Periodontal disease is considered one of the complications of diabetes. In some people, the presence of periodontal disease decreases their ability to control blood sugar. When a person treated for gum disease shows no improvement following treatment and good oral hygiene, a referral to his or her physician is in order.
Recent studies have investigated the connection between premature births and gum disease. Some investigators speculate that as many as 18 percent of all cases of premature births may be associated with gum disease. Pregnant women produce substances known as regulators, which determine when the process of birth is to occur. Once these regulators reach a certain level, they signal the birth process to begin. Gum disease produces regulators, known as prostaglandins. In a pregnant woman, prostaglandins may send out a false signal to the body, thereby initiating the birth process prematurely. Regularly scheduled maintenance visits to your dentist are critical to maintaining healthy gums, especially prior to and during pregnancy.
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey hopes that you make an appointment with your dentist when you are in pain or need a cleaning. At the same time, please consider how important it is to see your dentist regularly to detect the early warning signs of problems that could affect your overall health. These visits could actually save your life.